For the record - Oct 2015
A list of recently published Singaporean literature, with some gossip
By Stephanie Ye
In this new column, we list all Singaporean literary titles in English that have been published since the last issue of QLRS. As this is our first instalment, we are listing works published since the start of this year.
But first, a definition: What is Singaporean literature? Thankfully, over fourteen years of journalhood, QLRS prides itself on having some idea of what 'literature' is. It's the 'Singaporean' bit that's tricky.
To put together this column, we looked at what the various Singapore literary presses have been putting out, with a bias towards titles by Singaporean and Singapore-based authors. We also kept an ear out for news of Singaporeans being published overseas.
We don't include journals. We don't include translations, for the most part. We include graphic novels and play scripts. We tend to avoid non-fiction (if only because the avalanche of Lee Kuan Yew-related titles would crash our server), though we make an exception for works we feel are of literary interest. For example? Take a look at the two such titles we've listed below.
Apologies in advance: We cannot be exhaustive. We probably aren't wholly objective. But we do aim to be informative.
Let us know about corrections, omissions, or titles for consideration: email us at the usual address. We reserve the right to reject publications we feel are inappropriate for this column.
This year saw several debut poetry collections:
Equatorial Sunshine by Wong Su Ann (Ethos Books, 104 pages, SGD 14). A law graduate, Wong was inspired to write about love and loss during an exchange semester at the University of Nottingham. Her poem 'Anting-Anting' was published in QLRS in April 2014.
Patchwork And Cigarettes by Gaston Ng (Math Paper Press, 68 pages, SGD 16). The death of a parent is at the centre of this collection by a Mentor Access Project alumnus. Ng was first published in QLRS in April 2003 with his poem 'Second Day of Mourning'.
And Other Rivers by Lee Jing-Jing (Math Paper Press, 52 pages, SGD 16). Amsterdam-based Lee writes both poetry and prose, and her debut verse collection follows her debut novel, If I Could Tell You, published in 2013. Fittingly, when Lee was published in QLRS in January 2010, she appeared in both Poetry ('Bones') and Short Stories ('Eclipse').
Moving on to old hands, Desmond Kon Zhicheng‐Mingdé has a new collection titled Babel Via Negativa (Ethos Books, 176 pages, SGD 21.50). The subtitle describes it as 'hybrid scripting'; tellingly, at this year's Singapore Writers Festival, Kon features on a panel titled, 'Why You Write All Weird?'
From Cyril Wong comes The Lover's Inventory (Math Paper Press, 60 pages, SGD 16), structured as a series of letters to past lovers and leavers. The Singapore Literature Prize winner – and former QLRS editor – spoke of withdrawing from literary life after the National Library Board's 'gay penguin' saga of 2014; fortunately, this collection had already been submitted to the publisher.
Looking west, Steep Tea by Jee Leong Koh (Carcanet Press, 72 pages, GBP 8.99) is the New York-based poet's first collection to be published in the UK, after previous volumes published in the US and Singapore.
Though we will not make a habit of listing reprints, we make an exception for Gwee Li Sui's Who Wants to Buy an Expanded Book of Poems? (Landmark, SGD 18.60), originally published in 1998 as Who Wants to Buy a Book of Poems?
In an email to QLRS, Gwee explained he had always intended for that slim 17-poem volume to be more substantial. However, due to the uncertain demand for Singaporean literature back in the dark ages of the 1990s, his publisher decided to minimise its exposure and publish a pared-down version of the original manuscript.
'I've always considered Who Wants to Buy a Book of Poems? half of what I really intended,' wrote Gwee. Thus, when the opportunity arose to reprint the title this year, the poet convinced his publisher to let him restore it to his original vision.
'I went back to my parents' home to dig through stacks of old paper to re-find my old poems, all still in the envelope I sent Landmark 17 years ago. All these poems belong together: they were all from a particular phase of my writing life, and they're brothers and sisters. You will know why they work together when you read them.'
Gwee hasn't just been raiding his boyhood files: he's also launched a new verse collection, The Other Merlion and Friends (Landmark, SGD 18.60), which he describes as his 'return to the genre of nonsense verse', after last year's sombre One Thousand and One Nights.
Finally, two verse anthologies:
From Walden to Woodlands: An Anthology of Nature Poems (Ethos Books, 120 pages, SGD 18). Edited by Ow Yeong Wai Kit and Muzakkir Samat, it's billed as 'an interfaith anthology of poetry about nature in Singapore'. Contributors include Alfian Sa'at, Wena Poon and Gilbert Koh.
SingPoWriMo 2015 (Math Paper Press, SGD 21). Now in its second year, SingPoWriMo (Singapore Poetry Writing Month, for long) sees people taking up the challenge to write a poem every day, for thirty days, in the month of April. The best of this year's output is collected in this anthology edited by Daryl Qilin Yam, Jennifer Anne Champion and Joshua Ip.
Quite a number of short fiction debuts, but many of the names on the covers aren't entirely unfamiliar:
Moth: Stories by Leonora Liow (Ethos Books, 300 pages, SGD 20). Liow won the Golden Point Award for her short story 'Pentimento' back in 2003. Twelve years later, her debut collection of ten stories 'explores the private universe of individuals navigating the arcane waters of human existence'.
Nine Cuts by Audrey Chin (Math Paper Press, 102 pages, SGD 22). Nine cuts, nine stories. Chin was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize in 2014 for her novel As The Heart Bones Break.
We Rose Up Slowly by Jon Gresham (Math Paper Press, 188 pages, SGD 22). His background is in the finance industry, but the England-born, Australia-raised, Singapore-based Gresham has been consistently publishing in various venues since 2010. One of the stories in this collection, 'Death of A Clown', was published in QLRS in April 2012.
It Never Rains on National Day by Jeremy Tiang (Epigram Books, 220 pages, SGD 18.90). Tiang is a familiar name in the Singapore literary scene, not only for his short stories but also his translations from the Chinese. His fiction and criticism have been published numerous times in QLRS since 2001. Epigram boss Edmund Wee told QLRS that Tiang's collection was originally called Schwellenangst: the title of one of the stories in the collection, it's a German word meaning 'the fear of crossing thresholds, or boundaries'. (Wee vetoed the title as unmarketable.)
These Foolish Things by Yeo Wei Wei (Ethos Books, 148 pages, SGD 19.90). Like Tiang, Yeo is a fiction writer who is also known for her translation work. She is currently a writer-in-residence at Nanyang Technological University, and her collection is reviewed in our current issue by Philip Holden.
Blood: Collected Stories by Noelle Q. de Jesus (Ethos Books, 280 pages, SGD 18.60) is centred on emigrants and other displaced individuals. Born in the US, raised in Manila and based in Singapore, the author has previously published a chick-lit novel, Mrs MisMarriage, as Noelle Chua.
Moving on to short fiction anthologies, from Ethos Books comes The Adopted: Stories from Angkor (176 pages, SGD 20). Friends Heng Siok Tian, Phan Ming Yen, Yeow Kai Chai and Yong Shu Hoong went on holiday to Cambodia; being writers, they gave themselves daily writing prompts, and the result is this textual collaboration. It's certainly more original than a Facebook photo album.
No prizes for guessing who publishes The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume 2 (368 pages, SGD 24.90). Edited by Jason Erik Lundberg, it follows the inaugural 2013 volume, and comprises twenty-four stories published in 2013 and 2014.
As for novels, one biggie is Big Mole by Ming Cher (Epigram Books, 232 pages, SGD 24.90). This is the long-in-the-making sequel to Spider Boys, published in 1995 by Penguin New Zealand and republished by Epigram in 2012. Ming Cher has lived in New Zealand since 1977, but his new novel is firmly rooted in 1950s Singapore, in the tumultuous years leading up to Independence.
When a Flower Dies by Josephine Chia (Ethos Books, 292 pages, SGD 18.60) centres on a Peranakan woman and her memories of growing up in colonial-era Singapore. Chia started writing in the 1980s, and continued to write and publish after she immigrated to England in 1985. She returned to Singapore in 2012 and won the Singapore Literature Prize for Non-Fiction last year for Kampong Spirit, about the Potong Pasir village she grew up in.
A Family Portrait by Lin Yang (Ethos Books, 160 pages, SGD 18.60) is a debut. A young woman must reconcile the past in China and her future in Singapore. Born in China, Lin Yang lived in Australia, Sweden and Mexico before moving to Singapore, and received an Arts Creation Grant from the National Arts Council to write this novel.
Cherry Days by David Leo (Ethos Books, 252 pages, SGD 18.60) is a coming-of-age story set in 1950s Singapore. Famously publicity-shy, Leo has published numerous titles of poetry and prose since the early 1990s.
In First Fires by Jinat Rehana Begum (Ethos Books, 192 pages, SGD 18.60), a young woman goes missing, and her family must makes sense of their lives together. The author has a doctorate in English literature from the University of York; this is her debut novel.
Finding Francis: A Poetic Adventure, edited by Eriko Ogihara-Schuck and Anne Teo (Ethos Books, 60 pages, SGD 13). As she researched T.S. Eliot and his influence on Asian literature, Japanese academic Ogihara-Schuck came across a poem by one Francis P. Ng, published in 1937. Her search for the poet eventually took her to Singapore and the poet's family. This volume also collects the poet's known poems, including the one that sparked this literary detective adventure.
Tall Tales and MisAdventures of a Young Westernized Oriental Gentleman by Goh Poh Seng (NUS Press, 214 pages, SGD 24). The late Goh was the author of If We Dream Too Long, widely recognised as the first English-language Singaporean novel. He was working on this memoir of his university days in Dublin when he passed away in 2010. The book's launch here in August was hosted by Irish Ambassador Geoffrey Keating, himself a Dubliner.
Of all the books on this list, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew (Epigram Books, 324 pages, SGD 34.90) is one that really needs no introduction. The graphic novel has enjoyed a high profile – and healthy sales – thanks to the National Arts Council, which pulled its $8,000 publishing grant just before its launch in May. No doubt the council had its reasons... Certainly we were interested enough to find a reviewer...
It's taken half a century to get from stage to page: A White Rose At Midnight by Lim Chor Pee (Epigram Books, 96 pages, SGD 13.90) was first performed in 1964. An English-educated scholar meets a Chinese-educated nightclub singer; cultures collide. Lim, who died in 2006, was a Cambridge-educated lawyer active in Singapore's budding English-language theatre scene of the 1960s. A White Rose was his second and final play; the script of his first, Mimi Fan, was published by Epigram in 2012.
Get Lucky: An Anthology of Philippine and Singapore Writings edited by Manuelita Contreras-Cabrera, Migs Bravo-Dutt, and Eric Tinsay Valles (Ethos Books, 130 pages, SGD 18.60). This comes thirteen years after Love Gathers All: The Philippines-Singapore Anthology Of Love Poetry edited by Singaporeans Aaron Lee and Alvin Pang. The anthology of poetry, fiction and essays sees Singapore-based Filipinos take the reins.
UNION: 15 Years of Drunken Boat, 50 Years of Writing From Singapore edited by Alvin Pang and Ravi Shankar (Ethos Books, 640 pages, SGD 25). With more than 120 contributors in prose and poetry, it's less a question of who's in this massive anthology than who isn't. Co-published with the American literary journal Drunken Boat, it's probably the only time most of us (because, yes, most of the QLRS editors are in this) will share a table of contents with Norman Mailer.QLRS Vol. 14 No. 4 Oct 2015